The 5 Best Hard Shell Luggage Pieces of 2023, According to Travel Experts
Whether you need a carry-on or a checked bag, these best hard shell luggage picks make flying a breeze.
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Much in the same way that some people prefer a window seat while some won’t fly unless they’re in the aisle, the question of hard shell luggage vs. soft shell versions is a very personal choice. Timm Fenton, designer of iconic luggage brand Ricardo Beverly Hills, says, “While soft construction allows some flex for additional packing space, hard side cases provide impact resistance, and molded shells tend to glide easier over uneven surfaces during handling.”
Soft-sided luggage usually has some sort of fabric exterior, which sometimes makes it lighter to carry around. For those who shop while traveling, it might mean adding a bit more clothing or souvenirs on the way home from a trip. Another reason some people prefer soft shell luggage is that it seems to be easier to store in overhead bins, since it’s less rigid than hard shell luggage.
Hardside luggage generally features a less malleable exterior, so while you might not as easily overstuff the suitcase, it’s also less likely to tear while en route to a destination. It also tends to be more durable overall and lasts longer. Another perk: Most of the hard shell luggage we’ve seen often has a hidden zipper section that allows you to expand the size of the bag.
The best hard shell luggage
Best overall hard shell luggage
Royce and Rocket The Castle
If you hate unpacking suitcases on trips, this good-looking Royce and Rocket roller has the solution. The standout element of this smart bag includes patent-pending built-in shelving to live out of the luggage. The signature design element—the Castle Shelves—feature two fold-down, lightweight weight-bearing shelves built into the lid side of the bag.
When you’re ready to pack up again, unsnap the two straps and the shelves stow flat for maximum organization. This hard shell luggage consists of durable polycarbonate material and also includes a TSA-approved lock, 360-degree spinner wheels, a multi-stop telescopic handle and a compression system to pack even more.
- Features patent-pending built-in shelves
- Three external color and two internal shade options
- Includes a hidden pocket, hanging pocket and mesh-zip compartment
- Free shipping, free returns and a 10-year warranty
- On the heavier side at 15.5 pounds
Best budget hard side luggage
Rockland Melbourne Hardside Spinner
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get high quality when some cheap luggage pieces work just as well. This 20-inch Rockland spinner is sized to be a carry-on, is lightweight and has four multi-directional spinner wheels for the easiest level of maneuverability. Its acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic material makes it durable, and the ergonomic aluminum telescoping handle will have you whizzing through airport lines. And even with a very small footprint, reviewers report that this compact piece of hardside luggage has room for loads of clothing and accessories.
- Affordable price
- Has multi-directional spinner wheels
- Made from a lightweight ABS material
- No lock included
- Wheels may vary between black and silver
Best checked hard shell luggage
Béis The 26-Inch Check-In Roller
Serious about taking a longer trip in the next few months? Then you’ll want serious luggage to keep up with you. Béis is one of the best new luggage brands on the market. This fashionable and functional checked bag has a stain-resistant polycarbonate exterior with a stylish gradient 3D stripe design. It comes packed with features every world traveler will appreciate, such as 360-degree wheels and TSA-approved locks, as well as some very special capabilities.
Never worry about getting charged for overweight baggage with this Béis bag: A built-in weight limit indicator lets you know when your bag is too heavy. An optional expansion section makes the bag bigger, holding up to 99 pounds. Just be sure to check airline regulations to avoid extra charges and luggage problems at TSA.
- Built-in weight limit indicator
- Comes in nine colors
- Includes organizational pockets, including a built-in “dirt bag” for laundry
- Limited lifetime warranty
- On the expensive side
- Some say the waterproof pouches are actually more water-resistant
Best carry-on hard case luggage
Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside Luggage
There’s a reason that many people equate Samsonite with luggage. The brand ensures a reliable and reasonably priced option for quality cases that last. The Winfield 2 hard shell luggage meets the majority of domestic airlines’ carry-on restrictions. It also comes with cool updates, like the TSA-friendly locks on the side of the suitcase, so they’re easily accessible to you or a TSA agent (but less so to potential thieves). Most impressively, the case comes redesigned and re-engineered to make it more lightweight and easier to lift and stow in overhead bins. Over 14,500 five-star Amazon ratings confirm that this is one of the best carry-on luggage on Amazon.
- Only weighs 6.7 pounds
- Interior dividers help with organization
- Comes in 14 color options
- Great value
- Reviewers report that this bag can scratch easily
Best splurge hard shell luggage
Roam The Large Carry-On
If you feel limited by the sometimes meager color choices available in most luggage, check out Roam. From the front and back shell to the smallest details, like the zipper and binding, choose the colors that suit you best. Want an expandable suitcase? Just tick that box and it’s yours. In a world full of black suitcases, your bag can be one of a kind.
Ball-bearing spinner wheels make the Roam bag smooth to navigate anywhere, even through the busiest airports in the world. TSA-approved locks and the lightweight, durable American-made polycarbonate shell round out the features that make this our favorite splurge-worthy hard shell luggage option.
- Completely customizable
- Lifetime warranty makes it a quality investment
- Built-in compression system lets you pack more
- 100-day free trial and free shipping
- Water-resistant, not waterproof, zipper
What to consider when buying a hard shell luggage
When buying the best hard shell luggage, consider these different factors:
- Material: Hard shell luggage comes in polycarbonate, aluminum or ABS plastic. Polycarbonate is durable and lightweight while aluminum is strong but heavy. ABS plastic is the most affordable, but not the most durable.
- Size: Choose a size that fits your travel needs. Smaller luggage works best for shorter trips while larger luggage is necessary for longer excursions.
- Wheels: Four-wheeled spinner luggage maneuvers easier while two-wheeled luggage boasts more stability.
- Handles: The handles of the hard shell luggage must be strong and comfortable to grip. Look for luggage with telescopic handles that adjust to different heights.
- Locks: Having a lock on luggage can provide peace of mind knowing your belongings are safe. Look for suitcases with TSA-approved locks to ensure that airport security can access your luggage if necessary.
- Brand reputation: Research and consider brands with a good reputation for quality and durability, like Béis or Away. You want luggage to last for many trips to come.
- Price: Hard shell luggage prices range from affordable to very expensive. Consider your budget, style and needs when choosing luggage at the price you can afford. Searching for the best luggage deals before buying can help save some extra money, as well.
How we found the best hard shell luggage
As shopping experts, our only job is to help you find a winning product. We start with the research and reporting basics—what products are made of, what they look like and how much they cost—to ensure that we’re only recommending the buys that are worth your time and money. Then, we research the features that speak to the product’s quality, taking advice from industry insiders and subject matter experts on what makes a product a smart value (or worthy of a splurge). Finally, we do the work of combing through user reviews to see how real people interact with the product, and if it stands up to the test.
Is hard shell luggage better than soft-sided?
Whether hard shell luggage or soft-sided luggage is better depends entirely on one’s preferences and needs when packing and traveling. Hard shell features durable construction and withstands impact better compared to soft-sided luggage. Additionally, it’s more water-resistant, making it ideal for rainy trips.
However, hard shell luggage is less flexible than soft-sided luggage, making it harder to store in overhead bins. It’s also heavier and has limited expansion capabilities in comparison—something important to consider when choosing based on how much you want to pack in the bag.
How do you clean hard shell luggage?
Cleaning hard shell luggage is easy. Simply wipe it down with a damp cloth or sponge to remove stains and dirt.
Does hard shell luggage crack?
Although generally durable and designed to withstand impact, hard shell luggage may crack if the quality, design and construction is lacking. Some materials, like ABS plastic, is more prone to cracking than others, like polycarbonate.
- Timm Fenton, designer of luggage brand Ricardo Beverly Hills
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